Downtown Camas is a place people go to shop, dine and, thanks to Dave and Terri Sauer, get away from it all. The Sauers purchased the century-old building housing the 33-room Camas Hotel and after two years of renovation, their work has paid off. Their luxury boutique hotel has become an important part of the downtown Camas scene drawing visitors from near and far.
Not Always the Camas Hotel
In 1911, The Commerce Hotel was built in on NE Fourth Street in downtown Camas, not far from the entrance to the paper mill. It was a boxy structure with metal fire escapes on the front of the building. The hotel was functional but certainly not pretty. Travelers on their way to Portland spent the night there. Mill workers, on temporary assignment, may have spent months in one of the small rooms.
About a block away was another hotel, The Camas Hotel. That hotel burned down one night and, eventually, the name Camas Hotel was given to The Commerce Hotel on NE Fourth when it changed hands.
Locals recall a simple hotel with a cage at the front desk. It was anything but welcoming. But things have changed over time. The paper mill has downsized and the offensive smell has disappeared from the town. Luxury homes dot the hillsides.
Now on NE Fourth Avenue you can stroll the tree-lined streets and stop to shop at antique stores and boutiques. In season, beautiful hanging baskets overflowing with flowers decorate the lampposts. There are events such as First Fridays and the colorful Camas Farmer’s Market. And, the renovated Camas Hotel is the perfect place to stay to take it all in.
Terri Sauer’s Journey from Corporate Executive to Hotelier
I spoke with the hotel’s co-owner Terri Sauer in a lovely king-bedded room overlooking the trees on the main street. The huge trees were just beginning to leaf out to create the canopy of shade the downtown area is known for. The room, it turns out, is their spacious Executive/Honeymoon Suite.
Terri Sauer and her husband Dave, an engineer, purchased the hotel in August of 2016 and began renovations. She provides on-site management. Sauer, an accountant by training, left a career in corporate finance to explore her entrepreneurial side. Sauer explains, “At my last corporate job, I worked with a CFO who really inspired me. I came to believe I can do something on my own.”
She explored options. Buying a medical supply company was one and then she thought of purchasing a large restaurant on 192nd Street. But it was her husband who discovered the 100-year-old building in Camas they both decided would be the project they wanted to devote their time to. Sauer wanted to stop commuting to Portland and get involved in something more local. And the Camas Hotel was a perfect choice.
The Evolution from Simple Hotel to Luxury Boutique Inn
The first project for the Sauers was funding. With money from their 401k and a Small Business Association loan, the work could begin. Her husband, still working as a consulting engineer, took on the facilities management role and, with a 100-year old property, there was much to be done and to learn. Sauer explains, “Dave had to learn about things like the old boiler system. It was like a sauna in the basement. After he wrapped the pipes the temperature dropped about 20 degrees.”
They took on modifying some of the European style rooms to make more of them larger with en-suite bathrooms. And, of course, redecorating and adding all the comforts expected of a luxury inn had to be done. Air conditioning was added. Sauer shared, “our goal was to enhance the guest experience.”
They decided to keep some of the small European style rooms with shared bath. Sauer explains, “We have customers who love the vibe of our hotel and say that it reminds them of Europe.” They have been successful in providing something for everyone from a budget European style room with a single, twin bed to the lovely room we sat in with a king bed and spa tub. Sauer adds, “It’s a happy blend of meeting everyone’s budget. The en-suite rooms come with an expanded continental breakfast (the quiche is a favorite). To keep the cost low for the budget-minded, the European style rooms do not include breakfast but guests can purchase it separately.
Now, all rooms have been upgraded and have top-flight amenities. A kitchenette, light-filled breakfast room and guest laundry are available. I was impressed with the luxe look of all the rooms with modern color palettes, windows overlooking the downtown scenery and, a big selling point, you will be within walking distance to shopping, a vintage movie theater, events and dining.
Guests include those traveling and exploring the beauty of the Columbia River Gorge and locals who just want a girlfriend’s getaway or a couple’s romantic date night.
Exciting News for the Camas Hotel
The Sauers own the building on that corner and are excited as the restaurant space downstairs has been leased to a Michelin-starred chef from the San Francisco Bay area, Peter Rudolph, and a wine and restaurant industry alum, Don Riedthaler, for their new venture, Hey Jack. Hey Jack will feature foods from the local area with a creative, ever-changing seasonal menu.
Of course, the restaurant space was another renovation project for the Sauers. She explains, “It’s a delicate old building and the restaurant had water damage.” With that area made new, a state of the art kitchen added, and the creativity of the new tenants, Hey Jack will be yet another reason to spend time in downtown Camas.
Sauer says proudly, “It’s a team effort down here. Our hotel is just part of the downtown Camas experience. Things have really taken off, especially in the last three years.”
And I have to add that Sauer is one of the driving forces behind the success.
When You Go to The Camas Hotel
The Camas Hotel is the perfect spot to unwind and relax, and is an excellent base for exploring the region.
The address is: 405 NE Fourth Avenue, Camas and the phone number for reservations is 360-834-5722.
Hey Jack is expected to open soon.